Southwest Region Final Thoughts: What's in Store for 2011-12?

April 8th, 2011

Next up in the short series of looking ahead to next season is the Southwest region, where things essentially went haywire the first weekend. Advancing to San Antonio was the top seed Kansas and seeds 10 through 12, and when the dust settled VCU won the region. A number of teams have some important personnel issues to address, but the Jayhawks won't be the lone team expected to contend for their league title out of this region in 2011-12.                                                                                                                                               (1) Kansas: lost to VCU in the Elite 8
While most programs would happily accept a trip the regional final, that's not exactly the case for a Kansas squad that arrived in San Antonio with their road to Houston looking like a two-game cakewalk. They took care of Richmond, only to fall victim to VCU in the Elite 8. Now comes the roster turnovers, with the Morris twins and Josh Selby entering the NBA Draft, and seniors Mario Little, Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed graduating. That puts more on the shoulders of guards Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson in addition to forward Thomas Robinson, and the latter should be ready for the leading role. The recruiting class lacks in quantity but not in quality, with wing Ben McLemore and point guard Naadir Tharpe both expected to have an impact next season. Kansas will still be a player in the Big 12 race despite the heavy losses.

(2) Notre Dame: lost to Florida State in the third round
An outstanding season that featured their best finish as a Big East member (2nd) came to a screeching halt in their loss to the Seminoles, which surprised people more by the way in which it happened than the mere result. There will be two important losses to account for next season as Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough and forward Tyrone Nash are out of eligibility, but there's a lot of experience returning as well. Tim Abromaitis, Eric Atkins, Jack Cooley, Scott Martin, and Carleton Scott will be expected to lead while redshirt Jerian Grant and incoming freshman Pat Connaughton will both have to help fill the large hole left in the lineup by Hansbrough. There may be other teams picked to win the Big East but don't sleep on Mike Brey's group as they should be pretty good next year.

(3) Purdue: lost to VCU in the third round
The Boilermakers first went through the process of being whipped by the Rams in Chicago, then had to deal with the drama that was the pursuit of head coach Matt Painter by Missouri. Painter decided to remain at his alma mater in a move most saw as angling for a new deal (which he received), but at least Purdue avoided a third critical loss heading into the offseason. Seniors JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore move on, leaving the team to Robbie Hummel (who missed this season with a torn ACL) and point guard Lewis Jackson. Patrick Bade, D.J. Byrd, Terone Johnson and Ryne Smith are four of the players who will be needed to step up next season, and the Boilers welcome two solid frontcourt players in Donnie Hale and Jacob Lawson. If Hummel can remain healthy the Boilers may not be a favorite in the Big Ten, but they'll likely slide in just behind Ohio State.

(4) Louisville: lost to Morehead State in the second round
Rick Pitino did one of the best coaching jobs in the nation this season, a campaign that began in rather embarrassing fashion for him. But he had a team that was far more unselfish than last year's group, and senior Preston Knowles emerged as the perfect leader for this group. But once he went down with just over nine minutes remaining the Cardinals lost their best offensive threat, ultimately falling to Morehead State in the second round. Knowles will leave big shoes to fill from a leadership standpoint but everyone else returns, including Terrence Jennings, Kyle Kuric and Peyton Siva. Add in an outstanding recruiting class led by Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan, and Rakeem Buckles and Josh Swopshire should be healthy, and it's not hard to see this team competing for a Big East title.

(5) Vanderbilt: lost to Richmond in the second round
The move from a four to a five-seed did little to help out the Commodores, who once again lost their first NCAA Tournament game (they were a four in losses to Siena and Murray State). Point guard play was an issue, with Kevin Stallings having to rely on Brad Tinsley as the primary option. That changes with Kedren Johnson's arrival, and along with Dai-John Parker Vandy brings in a very good freshman backcourt (Shelby Moats will likely figure in the frontcourt rotation). If John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor decide to return this is a group that could be in the conversation with Kentucky atop the SEC East. Festus Ezeli, Lance Goulbourne, Rod Odom and Steve Tchiengang all return up front as well. If this group gets good play at the point and some added toughness they should hang around the NCAA Tournament substantially longer in 2012.

(6) Georgetown: lost to VCU in the second round
Georgetown's season went downhill the moment point guard Chris Wright broke his left hand in a loss to Cincinnati in February. Even though he was on the floor in the loss to VCU the Hoyas were ripe for the picking in that one. Now Wright and Austin Freeman move on as does big man Julian Vaughn, meaning that more responsibility falls on the shoulders of players such as Jason Clark, ante Lubick, Markel Starks and Hollis Thompson. Lubick, Jerrelle Benimon and Henry Sims will all need to step up inside, and they'll be helped out by the addition of Tyler Adams, Mikael Hopkins and Greg Whittington. Shooting guard Jabril Trawick will also figure into the plans for John Thompson III, and while they won't be picked in the upper echelon of the Big East the Hoyas should return to the Big Dance.

(7) Texas A&M: lost to Florida State in the second round
Mark Turgeon's Aggies had a good season, winning 24 games before being knocked out of the tournament by Florida State in the second round. And that was without consistent scoring from the backcourt. B.J. Holmes and Nathan Walkup are the two biggest losses for A&M next year, with David Lobeau and Khris Middleton being two of the key players expected to return. But who helps out Dash Harris in the backcourt will have a lot to do with how well the Aggies do in the reconfigured Big 12. The good news is that A&M did well on the recruiting trail, signing point guard Jamal Branch and shooting guard Jordan Green and both should be able to help out. A&M will be back in the Big Dance, the only question is how long they'll stick around.

(8) UNLV: lost to Illinois in the second round
Once again a promising season was derailed in the first NCAA Tournament game for UNLV, this time falling in surprising fashion to an Illinois squad that limped into the tournament. Now a program that has to make up for the loss of Derrick Jasper and Tre'Von Willis will also need to find a new head coach as Lon Kruger moved on to take the Oklahoma job. UNLV released a list of four finalists: Dave Rice (BYU assistant, played on the 1990 national title team), Reggie Theus (former head coach at New Mexico State, played under Jerry Tarkanian in the late-70s), St. John's assistant Mike Dunlap and former Oregon head coach Ernie Kent. Whoever gets the job should have some good pieces to work with (provided they stay) in Oscar Bellfield, Anthony Marshall, Chace Stanback and Quintrell Thomas. The Rebels are a likely tournament team as it stands right now, but it's tough to make that leap without knowing who AD Jim Livengood will hire.

(9) Illinois: lost to Kansas in the third round
The Fighting Illini, who disappointed for much of the year, popped up and surprised some people in their 73-62 win over UNLV in the second round. The veterans put forth a good fight to continue their college careers but Kansas proved to be too much, meaning that head coach Bruce Weber needs to go about replacing Mike Davis, Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale in addition to freshman Jereme Richmond (going pro and hiring an agent). But there's talent due back in Champaign, as Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson will need to step up as leaders. Crandall Head and Meyers Leonard should get more chances to make things happen as well, and a strong recruiting class (especially in the frontcourt) should help matters. Tracy Abrams, Mycheal Henry and Mike Shaw are three of the five incoming players, and after some early growing pains this could be a tournament team.

(10) Florida State: lost to VCU in the Sweet 16
Despite their offensive woes the Seminoles won two tournament games thanks in large part to the nation's best defense, and that was without Chris Singleton for most of February. Singleton has a decision to make in regards to the NBA Draft but with many expecting him to be a first round pick, it may be best for Leonard Hamilton to plan for 2011-12 without the junior coming back. Derwin Kitchen is the only actual (as of right now) departure of note, and if this team can improve it's offensive efficiency look out. Michael Snaer is due for a breakout campaign and Ian Miller should be better as a sophomore. The frontcourt will not lack for bodies and they've got a very good recruiting class as well (Antwan Space, Aaron Thomas and Terry Whisnant all highly-touted recruits). North Carolina will be the preseason favorite in the ACC, but on paper Florida State may merit consideration.

(11) USC: lost to VCU in the First Four
The Trojans somehow found themselves in the NCAA Tournament when few gave them a chance of earning an at-large bid in February, but their offensive woes were exposed by VCU in the First Four. Now comes the rebuilding job for Kevin O'Neill, and boy will he have his work cut out for him. Nikola Vucevic (leaving school early) and Alex Stepheson both move on, as do Donte Smith and Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Simmons. That means more work for Jio Fontan and Maurice Jones in the backcourt, and that pales in comparison to what the Trojans will need up front. Byron Wesley and Alexis Moore lead a four-member recruiting class that also has a seven-footer (James Blasczyk). It may be a long year in the Galen Center due in large part to the losses up front.

(11) VCU: lost to Butler in the Final Four
VCU didn't even have a team get-together on Selection Sunday but once selected Shaka Smart's team did not allow the opportunity to go to waste, getting all the way to the Final Four before falling to Butler. Coach Smart ignored the offers from other programs, signing an eight-year extension to remain in Richmond .That's good for both the Rams and the CAA, but there are also some important departures to account for this offseason as well. Four seniors (Ed Nixon, Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozzell and Jamie Skeen) were key contributors in the run to Houston, but there are some returning players who picked up valuable experience due back. The frontcourt looks to be in better shape with DJ Haley, Juvonte Reddic and Toby Veal returning, but guard Darius Theus should be a solid compliment to Bradford Burgess on the wing. Briante Weber and Treveon Graham should help on the perimeter as well, so look for VCU to once again be a factor in the CAA.

(12) Richmond: lost to Kansas in the Sweet 16
Chris Mooney found himself in a similar situation to Shaka Smart after his team's run to the second weekend, and like Smart he decided to remain in Richmond with a new deal. The Spiders also have some senior departures to account for, with Kevin Anderson, Dan Geriot, Justin Harper and Kevin Smith (all starters) moving on. Darien Brothers, Darius Garrett and Francis Martel will all be important figures next season for Richmond, who also welcome a pair of power forwards (Alonzo Nelson-Ododa and Luke Piotrowski) who have the ability to enhance the Spiders' interior play. Richmond likely misses the NCAA Tournament without that Atlantic 10 Tournament title, and they could find themselves in a similar position given the heavy senior losses.

(13) Morehead State: lost to Richmond in the third round
Led by seniors Kenneth Faried and Demonte Harper, Donnie Tyndall's Eagles won the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament and knocked off Louisville in the second round. Richmond ultimately had too much for them but that defeat shouldn't take away from their season. Add in Sam Goodman's 8.3 points per game and Morehead has to replace three of their top four scorers. The good news is that Terrance Hill and Ty Proffitt return and should make up one of the better backcourt tandems in the OVC, but if Drew Kelly and others are incapable of stepping up inside the Eagles may have issues. Coach Tyndall and his staff signed an eight-player class for this season, and there will be a need for some of those frontcourt guys (especially Jeff Drew) to step up in 2011-12.

(14) Saint Peter's: lost to Purdue in the second round
John Dunne's rebuilding plan delivered this March as the Peacocks rode their stifling defense to the MAAC Tournament title. Seniors Ryan Bacon, Jeron Belin, Wesley Jenkins and Nick Leon led the MAAC's best defensive team, and their departure leaves a huge hole in the Peacock rotation. So who steps up for SPC next season? One would have to start with guard Steven Samuels, who will be the team's leading returning scorer with an average of 7.1 points per game. Darius Conley started 25 games (moving Belin into the 6th man role sparked SPC's revival) and if Blaise Ffrench can remain healthy they'll have an answer at the point. Saint Peter's has just one commit thus far so there's work to be done with the unsigned guys who may remain, but either way it's tough to see this group being a favorite in the MAAC come October.

(15) Akron: lost to Notre Dame in the second round
The Zips once again reached the MAC Tournament title game, this time beating bitter rival Kent State in a close contest. Keith Dambrot's team ultimately fell to Notre Dame in the second round but that won't put a damper on things, and there should be enough talent returning for the Zips to make another run in 2011-12. Three of their top six scorers do move on in Brett McKnight, Steve McNees and Darryl Roberts, but Nikola Cvetinovic and Brett McClanahan will be back. And there's also seven-footer Zeke Marshall due back to patrol the inside. Marshall's shot blocking ability is well-known, and an offseason working on his offensive game and strength will make him even better as a junior. The MAC rarely has a runaway team during the regular season, so look for Akron to figure prominently in the discussions for conference champion come October.

(16) Boston University: lost to Kansas in the second round
John Holland helped lead the Terriers back to the NCAA Tournament, and while the senior was a First Team All-America East selection he wasn't the lone reason for BU's rise. Darryl Partin proved to be a capable sidekick with Jake O'Brien being lost for the year in January due to injury, and those two should make a formidable pairing next season. Holland is the lone personnel loss for Patrick Chambers' team, and with Patrick Hazel and Dom Morris joining O'Brien in the frontcourt the Terriers will likely be the preseason favorite in America East. Power forward James Kennedy will have the opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman but there shouldn't be much pressure on either he or guard Zach Chionuma to be "the answer" given BU's depth.